First open house scheduled on line’s engineering phase.

After idling for a few years, the public comment process for the Riverview Corridor is revving up again. Ramsey County is seeking public comments on a “purpose and need statement” for the streetcar line through June 25. The county’s Regional Rail Authority will also host a virtual open house on the project’s preliminary engineering work from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 23.

The public will see an update on the corridor, which would run between the Saint Paul Union Depot and Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and Mall of America. An initial study process that wrapped up in 2017 resulted in the selection of a 12-mile route that largely runs on West Seventh Street.

modern streetcar
An example of a modern streetcar from the Community Advisory Committee presentation in May.

The next steps for the project include more detailed engineering studies as well as the submission of the required purpose and need statement. The statement is required as part of the federal environmental review process for transportation projects.

Three groups, including two dominated by citizens, are currently working on the plans.

A Policy Advisory Committee, composed of elected officials and business and community representatives, began meeting in 2020. It plans to review the purpose and need statement based on comments from the public and its consultant team at its upcoming meeting from 9-11:30 a.m. Thursday, July 15. If all goes as planned and federal funding is obtained, the project could start construction as soon as 2028 and open in 2032.

This spring, a Community Advisory Committee and a Station Area Planning Task Force began meeting. Those groups are expected to meet into 2023.

The Community Advisory Committee is reviewing project design, environmental analysis and community engagement. It involves the entire project area.

 

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“The big question is, ‘How do we cross the river?’” said Mona Elabbady of SRF Consulting. “We don’t know yet whether we can do a crossing at Fort Snelling.”

The Station Area Planning Task Force is looking at current proposed land uses and current conditions at proposed transit stations. Expected to emerge from that process are potential zoning changes to promote growth and redevelopment around each station. Any zoning changes would have to go to the Saint Paul City Council for approval.

Task force members have already outlined some challenges. One is that the project have sufficient regional and local ridership. Another is increasing density along the corridor without altering the character of its neighborhoods. Crossing the Mississippi River is a third concern.

An improved pedestrian experience, retaining the history of the corridor, and managing traffic near downtown at Xcel Energy Center and the United/Children’s Hospitals complex are other issues.

Nine streetcar stations are planned along West Seventh. The corridor is divided into three study areas. One includes stations at Davern Street, Maynard Drive and the Homer/Montreal area. A second includes stations at Otto, Randolph and Saint Clair avenues. The third includes stations at Grand Avenue, Kellogg Boulevard and the Fifth-Sixth Street area of downtown.

Stations could shift as a result of the ongoing studies, said Frank Alarcon of the project staff. Station area plans could be affected by such decisions as whether the streetcars run down the center of the street or along one side.

Near Seven Corners and the United/Children Hospitals area, use of part of Smith Avenue is still on the table. Another factor could be if a Canadian Pacific Railroad spur is used in the area between Randolph and Maynard.

Still another factor could be topography. One issue is if bluffs along part of the route would make siting a station difficult. The Station Area Planning Task Force is looking at that along with connecting streets and highways, motor vehicle traffic volumes, accident data, and the location of parks and other open space.

The Mississippi River crossing continues to be unresolved.

“The big question is, ‘How do we cross the river?’” said Mona Elabbady of SRF Consulting. “We don’t know yet whether we can do a crossing at Fort Snelling.”

Much of the technical and engineering work is focused on that. The locally preferred alternative calls for a crossing at or near West Seventh (Highway 5). The goal is to have a river crossing solution by this fall.

To comment on the project’s purpose and need statement and to sign up for the virtual open house on June 23, visit tinyurl.com/3kbvrnnh.

— Jane McClure

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